Company Car Today

Electric vehicle owners have been joined by a parliament committee in calling for the Government to intervene amid complaints that motorway charging points are not reliable enough.

Ecotricity has around 300 charging points in the UK, most of which are at motorway service areas, and with the exception of Tesla’s own customer Superchargers, it is the only EV charging company present at motorway services.

Many of the points are several years old and a number of EV owners have been complaining that Ecotricity’s points do not allow vehicles to be recharged using CCS (Combined Charging System, the European standard), an issue drivers claim has existed – and is seemingly unresolved – for several years, although this is something Ecotricity denies. “The situation with the CCS charging problems appears to have been going on for at least five years and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better,” David Peilow, an EV owner since 2008, told Company Car Today. “Dale Vince [Ecotricity’s owner] is saying ‘we’re fixing this’, but I can find stuff from five years ago that says exactly the same thing. It isn’t happening.”

Rachel Reeves MPRachel Reeves MP (pictured right), chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, told Company Car Today that our investigation “provides further anecdotal evidence that we have a long way to go to provide reliable charging points”.

“We can’t expect consumers to switch to electric vehicles if they cannot be confident of driving along a motorway and finding convenient points to charge their cars,” she said. “These examples raise questions about investment into motorway charging points and how the industry and Government can ensure these points are equipped to use the latest technology.”

Company Car Today found evidence of Ecotricity admitting there were problems with its CCS connectors in 2014. However, the problem has come to a head recently because owners of new electric vehicles have experienced issues recharging them.

The CCS charging issue was, according to Ecotricity, resolved in September. But Simon Canfer, an owner of a Hyundai Ioniq, told Company Car Today he experienced problems last month with several of the firm’s points.

“Out of the three attempts I made to charge at two different chargers using CCS, I couldn’t charge at all. One had communication issues while the other one showed as offline,” he told Company Car Today. “Ecotricity has also claimed to have fixed issues with CCS that they knew about but it isn’t any better than a few months ago. I tried to call them and I couldn’t get through to anyone.”

“There needs to be a point where the Government says ‘step aside, it’s not working'”

Ecotricity points normally come in pairs, however, there tends to be only one CCS plug between the two points, so if one point is out of action an EV owner will have to use a different charger. Also, unlike some other providers, Ecotricity does not have 24/7 telephone support.

Stuart Parr told us in a closed Facebook group for EV owners: “My only encounter with the flatbed of shame was thanks to three Ecotricity chargers in a row not working. I was travelling from Great Barr to Telford. The charger at Ikea in Wednesbury was broken. I stayed on the M6 instead of getting on the M54 to go home to use the next services only to find both chargers at those services had failed. I didn’t have enough charge to get home.”

Ecotricity has contracts in place with the major motorway area service operators, however, when asked how long these contracts are in place, and whether or not other charging point operators can install units at motorway service areas, Ecotricity refused to comment. The major motorway service area operators – Extra, Moto, Roadchef and Welcome Break – also declined to confirm details of the agreements.

Andrew Long, CEO, ExtraHowever, Andrew Long (pictured left), chief executive of Extra, told Company Car Today his firm is “reviewing a substantial upgrading” of its EV facilities. He added: “This may or may not be with Ecotricity for new commercial arrangements in respect of what will likely be major investment to provide the appropriate number of 350kW high-powered charging points at our facilities.”

“I wouldn’t have a problem if Ecotricity invested in the network,” said EV driver and expert David Peilow, who advised Tesla on where to place chargers when the American company first entered the UK market. “There needs to be a point where the Government should say ‘you need to step aside as it’s not working out, let someone else have a go’”.

An Ecotricity spokesman denied that there have been problems with its charging points in the past couple of months, apart from an issues related to one electric model in particular. “Our Electric Highway network experienced a specific issue related to CCS charging, which was identified and fixed back in September,” he said. “Following this fix, we are aware of an ongoing issue with Hyundai’s new Kona and our chargers – but other CCS vehicles are operating without issue.” Ecotricity said it is investigating the Kona problem, and awaiting a response from Hyundai.

“We monitor the performance of our charger network daily – faults are reported and visits by our in-house engineering team are scheduled based on available resource and parts, if required,” the Ecotricity spokesman continued. “We’re excited about the future of the Electric Highway – we’ll be adding high-powered 350kw chargers in 2019, increasing available capacity where needed, and importantly – upgrading our original chargers.”

Daniel Puddicombe